“Contextualization” is a buzzword in Christian conversation these days. A little over a month ago an entire conference was devoted to proclaiming the supremacy of Christ in this postmodern world of ours, and many of the speakers pressed that responsible outreach requires us to contextualize, that is, put the gospel into terms that postmoderns can understand and appreciate. We were told that the methods of evangelism used yesterday won’t work any longer. The current generation possesses less familiarity with the gospel and asserts new objections to Christianity so we must adapt and adjust our strategies appropriately.
But it seems like the majority of the “missional” and “contextualization” conversation is nothing more than an updated version of Evidentialism. The assumption is still that it is humanly possible to convince someone of the folly of their beliefs and the superiority of Christian faith, we just need new and improved arguments. So debates between creation and evolution have been replaced by conversations over inclusivism and exclusivism, while the goal remains to accumulate enough “historical and other inductive arguments for the truth of Christianity.”
This is simply a more sophisticated sounding man-centered approach. The problem is diagnosed with us, our methods, and our arguments; it is a failure in our presentation and inability to overcome resistance. So “responsible” outreach is determined by how successful it is, and success is defined by the number of people who accept our message.
Pragmatism may be wearing new clothes but her underbelly is as ugly as ever. It is Ashamed of the Gospel 2.0, where methods are judged on the basis of what works rather than what is right.
Contextualization, whether naively or arrogantly, ignores the fact that natural men (unbelieving and lacking the Spirit) do not need more sensible arguments or a contextual approach per se. Without the Spirit they cannot, they will not, understand the things of the Spirit of God. Without the power of the gospel (not the power of our presentation) and without [supernatural regeneration](Titus 3:3-7) (not our sophisticated reasoning) there is no hope of eternal life.
Is our gospel veiled? Yes! The God of this world has blinded them! This is no surprise. Whatever else the postmodern mindset includes, it views the preaching of the cross as foolishness. And do we not have very clear instruction on how to handle that? The Jews considered the cross a stumbling block; postmoderns consider its exclusivity offensive. The Gentiles thought the cross was folly; postmoderns do likewise.
Our task has always been and will remain simple: knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified so that no one’s faith would not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God. Plausible words of wisdom get us nowhere with spiritually dead people. Instead, let us depend on God to shine light in dark hearts. Spurgeon said:
Pray without ceasing, and preach the faithful Word in clearer terms than ever. Such a course of conduct may seem to some to be a sort of standing still and doing nothing, but in very truth it is bringing God into the battle; and when HE comes to avenge the quarrel of his covenant he will make short work of it, “Arise, O Lord, plead thine own cause!”
I still think if we want to communicate the gospel effectively, even in a postmodern culture, clarity is ten thousand times more vital than “contextualization.”